Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
The best thing about co-writer/ director Gary Ross’ OCEAN’S 8 is that it lets the ladies we love do the things we pay to see them do best: dazzle us with their vivaciousness and skill. They provides a necessary, distractive sparkle when flaws threaten to downgrade this cinematic gem’s rating. This zesty razzle-dazzle makes for a fun, whip-smart and snazzy little number that plugs in fluidly to the existing franchise – even outdoing its male-centered sequels.
Debbie “sister of Danny” Ocean (Sandra Bullock) has had a lot of time to plan her latest scheme. Five years, eight months, and twelve days, to be exact. In that time, she’s plotted a way to lift Cartier’s famed Toussaint diamond necklace during fashion’s answer to the Super Bowl – the Met Gala. It will be the biggest jewelry heist in history, as it’s worth $150 million. Only she can’t do it alone, so she ropes in best pal Lou (Cate Blanchett) to help assemble a highly-skilled crew. The dynamic duo enlists tech wizard 9-ball (Rihanna), fast-hand Constance (Awkwafina), jeweler Amita (Mindy Kaling), fashion designer Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter) and former fencer-turned-suburban-mom Tammy (Sarah Paulson) to go after the necklace worn by actress Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway, doing a spectacular, seductive send-up of herself) on the big night. Hijinks and hilarity ensue.
Ross knows his strength is this incredible cast of magnetic women, and never lets the focus off of them, even when the men are talking. The camera never leers. Instead it captures these effervescent ladies exercising their quick wit, agency and autonomy. Though it is a little light on character dimensionality, it’s no more or less so than OCEAN’S ELEVEN was for those men. Jobs aren’t character traits, but if Soderbergh can get away with it for three movies, then certainly that same courtesy should be extended to Ross and co-screenwriter Olivia Milch with their gender-swapped iteration.
Nevertheless, the actresses work to build out their characters beyond the confines of the narrative. They make their dialogue sing. Bullock is terrific as the acerbic, no-nonsense leader. She infuses her character with a nuanced warmth and vulnerability behind that steely cool, methodical exterior. Blanchett is a solid, dependable presence as the group facilitator. Her wardrobe – which is like 70’s glam-rocker meets Tom Ford – is also the most spectacular of all the ladies. Though the (possibly inadvertent) queer undertones between them could have been ratcheted up a notch, their dynamic is electric. Rihanna carves out a few pivotal moments, as do Paulson and Carter. Awkwafina and Kaling are treated as garnish, but what they manage to do with very little is noteworthy and terrific. It’s Hathaway who simply shines, lampooning a coddled, needy actress (some might say herself) – surpassing Julia Roberts’ attempt at the same in OCEAN’S TWELVE.
Unlike the other films in the series, Ross and Milch brilliantly do away with a love story. Instead, they look at the flipside of that proverbial coin – revenge. That said, it stretches believability that someone as smart as Debbie would ever be caught off her game – even in the safety of an allegedly loving relationship. Despite that doubt, the vengeful scheme thrust upon shifty art dealer Claude Becker (Richard Armitage) sufficiently ties the narrative together.
References to the other films are peppered throughout – whether in surprise cameos from Soderbergh’s regulars, or the similar eccentricities of the characters, or the echoes of OCEAN’S ELEVEN composer David Holmes’s score within OCEAN’S 8 composer Daniel Pemberton’s. Plus, it’s a blessing that they don’t pull any cheap tricks with the series lore either, considering the surprising note on which this film starts.
Overall, while this spin-off does quite a few things better than others in the franchise, it feels noticeably lacking when it comes to humor. It’s drier than the vermouth in one of Danny Ocean’s martinis. The picture’s pacing is aching for a jigger-sized shot of vim, verve and vigor. How did Ms. Ocean learn the themes for the next five consecutive Met Galas to know what to boost whilst stuck in prison? We’ll never know. Let’s just assume “informants.” It also doesn’t matter a whole bunch. We can buy it in terms of her proven, quick-thinking. We’re not here for the logistics. We’re only here for the cunning wits, the glam and the sparkle.
OCEAN’S 8 opens on June 8.